As the college basketball regular season winds down, bids will be punched and bubbles will be popped. Over the course of the next two weeks, Kentucky likely still has some work to do in order to ensure a spot in the field of 68 teams. Last night’s win gave the Wildcats the much-needed Top-50 RPI win to add to the resume’. As with most things in life though, the situation is fluid. Kentucky won’t be the only team fighting for those final spots though. The bubble is packed more so than ever this season, with teams constantly floating back and forth between “being in” and “being out.” Aside from the top 20 or so teams, everyone’s name will be written in pencil until Selection Sunday. Here’s a pretty big list of the teams you might want to keep an eye on that will likely be fighting for the same spot as Kentucky.
California- California was called a “survivor” of Saturday’s bubble-watch by ESPN. What California has going for its tournament hopes is a resume’ that lacks a “bad loss.” Cal is sitting at a #43 RPI ranking, a 31st ranked SOS, while also riding a current 5-game winning streak. Cal will close the season with 3 more games, all at home. Cal could conceivably end the season on an 8-0 unbeaten streak, with only Utah, Colorado and Stanford remaining on the schedule.
What to watch: If California can finish 3-0 in the final 3 games of the season, you can likely count them in.
Baylor - Baylor is currently on Lunardi’s list of “First 4 Out.” Baylor has now lost 3 games in a row, including being dominated by Oklahoma yesterday. That’s 6 losses in the past 8 tries for Baylor. Baylor has a tough upcoming schedule, but that offers them plenty of chances to gain resume’ boosting wins.
What to watch: Baylor has 4 crucial games coming up: @ West Virginia, Kansas State, @ Texas and Kansas. Baylor needs to win the Kansas game if they want to have any chance of making the field.
Ole Miss- For the past few days, Ole Miss has teetered back and forth between Lunardi’s “First 4 Out” and “Last 4 In.” CBSSports.com called Ole Miss one of the bubble “winners” from yesterday, after avoiding a resume’-crushing loss to Auburn.
What to watch: Ole Miss doesn’t have a single resume’-boosting game left on the schedule: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Alabama and LSU. Ole Miss could very well win out, and they certainly need to do so in order to help their chances. Ole Miss will need to take care of business, while sitting back and hoping that someone else stumbles.
Temple - Temple spent most the weekend on Lunardi’s “Last 4 In” line. Kentucky looks to have bumped them at the moment. Coming off 2 solid wins against UMASS and La Salle, Temple didn’t play this weekend to boost or hurt the resume’.
What to watch: Temple’s best and only chance left to boost its resume’ comes against VCU in the regular season finale’.
Villanova- Next to Kentucky, Villanova was one of the other “winners” of the weekend. After back-to-back wins over Syracuse and Louisville in January, Villanova has been in a state of limbo. They put themselves in the conversation with those 2 wins, but some significant losses earlier in the season still lurked. Villanova picked up 3 valuable wins in just one week: Connecticut, Rutgers and Marquette (RPI: 14).
What to watch: If Villanova can avoid an upset against Seton Hall on Monday, they will probably make the field regardless of how they fare in the final 2 games against Pitt and Georgetown. If Villanova splits those 2 games, as Seth Davis would say *sharpie*. They’re in.
St. John’s- St. John’s appears to be on the way out after this weekend. Even though St. John’s defeated South Florida this week, they dropped 2 crucial resume’-boosting games against Louisville and Syracuse. In both games, St. John’s was dominated as well.
What to watch: St. John’s has 4 games left with 3 chances for resume’-boosting wins: #20 Pittsburgh, @ #25 Notre Dame and #17 Marquette. St. John’s likely controls its own destiny with plenty of opportunities for big wins still left on the table.
Southern Miss- Southern Miss was considered to be a “loser” in this weekend’s “bubble-watch.” Southern Miss botched a second opportunity to beat a Memphis team likely headed to the NCAA tournament. Although Southern Miss has already reached 21 wins, they will not have a single top-80 win during the season.
What to watch: YOU DO NOT WANT SOUTHERN MISS TO WIN THE CONFERENCE USA TOURNAMENT! At this point, an automatic bid looks to be the only route for Southern Miss to make the field. They have a chance to beat Memphis if they face each other for the third time this season in the tournament. Because Memphis might get in anyway, you do not want Southern Miss stealing a bid.
Indiana State- Indiana State appears to be on the way out of the conversation after losing 3 straight games to drop to 16-11 overall. Indiana State did pick up a win over Iona this weekend, but they are now looking like an automatic-bid or bust team.
What to watch: Indiana State is another team you probably DON’T want to win its conference tournament’s automatic bid. With teams like Wichita State and Creighton likely already earning at-large bids for the conference, an Indiana State conference tournament win would be a “bid-stealer.”
Maryland- The Terps appear to be a team very much on the bubble at this point. After beating Duke last week, the Terps gained some serious momentum toward making the field. The Terps helped themselves by winning Saturday against Clemson, to avoid a crucial 2-game skid after a loss to Boston College earlier this week. With a 66 RPI and a 116 SOS, the Terps probably still have some work to do.
What to watch: March 6th against North Carolina. These two teams very well might be battling it out for one of the final spots. UNC is Maryland’s only home game left in a 4-game stretch, which could cause issues for the Terps.
Tennessee- Don’t sleep on Tennessee. Out of all the teams vying for a final spot, Tennessee probably has the most ground to make up after a rocky start to the season. The Vols are on a current 5-game winning streak, including a convincing 30-point stomping of Kentucky.
What to watch: Tennessee HAS to win against Florida at home on Tuesday. If Tennessee can’t pull off the upset, count them out. If they beat Florida, game on with winnable games against Georgia and Auburn on the road. Tennessee closes the season with Missouri at home– another potential resume’-boosting game.
Alabama- In typical Alabama fashion, they managed to enter the bubble talk by compiling a fairly impressive number of wins. The problem, as usual, is that none of those wins were all that impressive, and they still have five sub-100 losses. After Saturday’s overtime loss to LSU, Alabama likely worked its way out of the big picture.
What to watch: Alabama has a chance to steal a nice win on the road against Florida, but it still likely won’t be enough. Long story short: You don’t want Alabama winning the SEC tournament.
Arizona State- Arizona State is a definite team to watch this week. Lunardi has had Arizona State barely in the tournament as of late. The Sun Devils dropped a crucial game at home against Washington last night that might really come back to haunt them. On a day when other teams like Kentucky were grabbing the attention with wins, Arizona State really dropped the ball. Arizona State helps itself though with four top-50 RPI wins.
What to watch: Arizona State has a brutal road game slate of games coming up. With that said, they control their own destiny. The Sun Devils travel to UCLA, USC and Arizona to close the season.
Iowa State- Iowa State is another team you will really want to keep an eye on down the stretch. Iowa State is riding a 3-game winning streak heading into the most important game of the season.
What to watch: Iowa State hosts Kansas on Monday. This game will likely decide Iowa State’s fate. If they win, they’re in. If they lose, they’re likely on the outside looking in. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk? Maybe just this once?
North Carolina- Don’t look now, but North Carolina, much like Kentucky– might finally be putting the pieces together after an underwhelming season. The Tar Heels entered Saturday’s game as a 10-seed in Jerry Palm’s latest bracketology. The seat just got a little more comfortable after a nice win over NC State. The Tar Heels have won 3 in a row, with a good chance to extend the streak to 4 with a trip to Clemson this week.
What to watch: UNC has great numbers for a tournament team’s resume’: 26th best RPI and a top-15 SOS. North Carolina has probably done just enough to crack the field, with plenty of chances left to prove themselves with Florida State and Duke on the horizon. North Carolina just needs to hold steady. Getting blown out in either of those games might hurt the Tar Heels’ chances.
St. Mary’s- Jerry Palm had St. Mary’s as one of his “Last 4 teams in” heading into the weekend. The Gaels showed signs of life with a nice resume’-boosting win over Creighton on Saturday. The win gave St. Mary’s a much-needed top 50 win on the season.
What to watch: Saturday’s win was the last real chance to steal momentum for the Gaels. With only 2 games remaining, against Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount, the Gaels need to finish 2-0. A run to the WCC title game, along with the 2-0 finish, might be enough to propel the Gaels into the field.
Belmont- Belmont is favored to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. They are 7-3 against the top 100 and have an RPI in the 20s…what does that mean?
ALL you need to know: You want Belmont to win its conference tournament, because if they don’t– they could be a hotly debated team come Selection Sunday.
Memphis- Memphis is going to be a NCAA tournament team, barring something crazy happening…but
What to watch: Much like Belmont, you want Memphis to win the Conference USA tournament*. Why? Because you don’t want someone else doing it. Why? Because if they do, Memphis is still getting in.
*Same theory applies to Middle Tennessee State with the Sun Belt Tournament
Creighton- After the way they started the season, it seems crazy to even be discussing Creighton right now– but here we sit. Creighton was called a “loser” on the bubble-watch this weekend. The loss on Saturday to St. Mary’s was Creighton’s 6th loss in 10 games. Creighton finds itself on dangerous ground as one of the team’s on the biggest downward slide as of late. There are wins over Wisconsin, California and Akron on the resume’, but there are also losses to Illinois State and Drake.
What to watch: Creighton desperately needs to win in the regular season finale against Wichita State at home. If they don’t win that game, they will likely spend Selection Sunday being compared to a few other teams for a spot. Their resume’ might hold up anyway, but it’s not a position this team wanted to be in or expected to be in a few months ago.
KENTUCKY- Hey, that’s us! Kentucky needed that win over Missouri on Saturday, and the whole country knew it. Kentucky was in desperate need of a top-50 win and they got it yesterday. Kentucky is now 2-1 in the post-Nerlens season. The more wins Kentucky can capture in the next 2 weeks, the further away that 30-point loss to Tennessee looks in the distance. As of today, most experts have Kentucky just in the field of 68.
What to watch: Kentucky can’t afford a loss to SEC bottom-dweller Mississippi State this week. Kentucky then heads on the road to Arkansas and Georgia. At least a 1-1 split in those road games would be helpful. Kentucky’s season-finale against Florida might not matter one way or the other. If they win, Kentucky could certainly solidify a spot in the NCAA tournament. If they lose, it’s likely a no-harm no-foul situation.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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